Learning how to drive is a major milestone in a teenager’s life, symbolizing expanded independence and widened opportunities. While parents are often excited to see their teens reach this noteworthy landmark, their enthusiasm is naturally mixed with a bit of apprehension.
The road can be an unpredictable place for drivers of any experience level, which is why it’s especially crucial for new motorists to develop and practice safe driving habits from the start.
If you’re the parent of a newly-licensed or student driver, it’s important to take steps that’ll help your teen understand which habits will work to keep him/her safe and which risky tendencies are best to avoid.
To help you out, here are a few ways you can assist your son or daughter in cultivating the right patterns on the road:
Lead by Example
As teens prepare to start learning how to drive, they’ll be more interested in observing their parents’ habits in the car. The most important thing a parent can do is lead by example. While most experienced drivers bend the rules from time to time, try your best to follow all the laws and guidelines you’d expect your teen to abide by.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Follow the rules as they’re outlined in the driver handbook. Whether your teen takes a state-approved driver’s ed course or plans to use the handbook to independently study, these guidelines will provide your child with the information he/she needs to pass the written permit test and drivers license exam. Reading through the manual with your teen will help you understand how to maintain consistency with the information your son or daughter needs to grasp.
- Be aware of your actions before you start the car. Adjusting your mirrors, fastening your seat belt, and putting any GPS coordinates into your phone before putting the keys into the ignition is a great way to show your teen how to create a healthy pre-driving checklist. The less fidgeting you have to do while actually operating the vehicle, the safer all parties will be.
- Watch your speed. Most seasoned drivers exceed the speed limit now and again, and while it’s not a good idea for anyone to do so, it’s especially risky for inexperienced drivers who are still learning how to keep up with the flow of traffic and react to other drivers’ actions. Be a good role model for your teenager and follow the speed limit, no matter how tempting it is to give into that lead foot.
- Avoid driving aggressively. Calm and courteous driving helps everyone stay safe on the road, as lashing out at other drivers can lead to dangerous collisions as well as personal confrontations. It’s important to demonstrate that the best way to handle a stressful situation is to stay cool under pressure. Also, be courteous to other drivers by letting other cars safely merge, using your blinkers, and coming to complete stops at stop signs.
- Minimize distractions. Distracted driving is a main contributor to collisions and other unsafe situations while driving, but the good news is that it’s largely avoidable. That being said, studies regularly show that almost all drivers engage in some form of distraction, especially when it comes to their phones. Using cell phones (for any reason), eating/drinking, conversing, daydreaming, grooming, and adjusting the radio/GPS are some of the main distractions drivers engage in. Influence your teen to avoid these habits by abstaining from them yourself. If anything comes up that needs your attention, make a point to pull over to a safe location to handle it without multitasking behind the wheel.
- Only drive when you’re sober and well-rested. Alcohol and drowsiness can both lead to impaired driving, so only drive in front of your teen (or at all) if you’re in an alert state of mind and are capable of making sound judgement calls.
Find a Professional Driving School
While each state has different laws regarding when driver’s ed is mandatory, enrolling your son or daughter in a trustworthy, state-approved driving school is almost always beneficial, especially for parents who are dealing with busy schedules.
Parents play an integral role in teaching their teens how to drive, but not every parent is a natural teacher who has ample time to teach someone the complexities of the road. Because of this, many parents find that utilizing a professional driver’s ed program helps balance the responsibility. Driving instructors are specially trained to teach state and national road laws in a way that’s engaging and effective, and most driving school vehicles are equipped with ample safety features, helping to give you peace of mind.
Additionally, teen car insurance is notorious for being expensive, but some insurance providers may lower rates if the adolescent completes certain driver’s ed or advanced driving school requirements.
Practice Driving with Your Teen Whenever Possible
The education and guidance you provide doesn’t have to stop when your teen becomes a licensed driver. Continually driving with your teen and providing advice will help him/her continue to strengthen safe driving habits, and it’ll also allow you to monitor in which areas your child is getting lackadaisical or could use more practice.
Additionally, it’s important to give your son or daughter guidance regarding situations not yet experienced. For example, if your teen took driver’s ed during the summer, the instructor may have mentioned a bit about how to stay safe in the snow without being able to provide hands-on training.
This is why it’s important to practice driving with your teenager if you feel the situation is something that requires more in-depth skill than he/she currently possesses, such as driving during inclement weather or navigating narrow mountain roads.
Stay Informed about Teen Driving Laws
Many states have implemented graduated licensing laws for teens. These laws are designed to minimize distractions while teenagers slowly acclimate to driving independently. Since new drivers lack experience operating a vehicle without supervision, gradually introducing situations that could divert their attention helps them solidify their skills at a safer pace.
Restrictions involve curfew limitations on the times they’re able to drive, the amount of peer passengers they’re allowed to have in the car, and if/how they’re able to use their cell phones.
It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the local teen driving laws so that you can encourage your child to follow them as necessary.
Demonstrate Proper Vehicle Maintenance
Part of safe driving is ensuring the car that you’re operating is in good mechanical health, as basic maintenance can prevent roadside emergencies. It’ll also minimize the need for expensive repairs.
By showing your son or daughter important maintenance measures, such as when to get the oil changed, how to adjust tire pressure/change a tire, and how to read warning lights/indicators, you’ll help your teen become self-sufficient at caring for a vehicle.
Utilize Automotive Telematics
Parents can track their teen’s driving habits by utilizing automotive telematics, a technology that monitors driver behaviors, such as if someone brakes too hard or accelerates too quickly. Some telematics apps will even give drivers detailed feedback on what they can do to improve their driving.
This can be especially beneficial to parents of newly licensed drivers, as they can see how their teens are driving when they’re not being supervised. Parents can then use that information to talk with their teenagers about any risky behaviors that need to be addressed as well as to commend positive habits.
On a similar note, telematics have shown to reduce the likelihood of collisions. Because this results in fewer insurance claims being filed, some insurance companies will lower the rates of drivers who use their telematics systems and consistently demonstrate good driver behavior.
Draft Up a Driving Contract
When your son or daughter first gets his/her license, you may naturally feel uneasy about him/her driving without your guidance. To help keep your teen safe and put your mind at ease, consider drafting up a driving contract.
These contracts help keep teen drivers accountable to their families by clearly stating what rules they need to follow in order to continue to have the privilege of driving. These should include local laws as well as boundaries imposed by parents.
Common items to address are:
- How many passengers can be in the car with your teen while driving? (Statistics show that teens driving with peer passengers are more likely to be in distraction-related collisions than teens driving alone.)
- What time of the day/night your child is allowed to drive?
- How will your son or daughter let you know where he/she is going? (Emphasize that you don’t want to be texted or called while he/she is driving.)
- A pledge that your teenager will contact you if he/she is not able to safely drive for any reason.
- A commitment that he/she will not ride in a car with anyone who’s intoxicated.
While it may seem like there’s little you can do to make sure your child stays safe once he/she is driving independently, there are numerous steps you can take to encourage your teen to develop and maintain safe habits on the road.
By setting a good example, ensuring your teen learns strong foundational skills, and continuing to monitor his/her driving habits, you’ll be able to help mold your son or daughter into a capable, cautious motorist.